European Commission Opens Case Against Germany Over Primacy Of EU Law

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The European Commission on Wednesday launched a case against Germany to assert the primacy of EU law over rulings from its national constitutional court.

The EU executive in Brussels began something called an “infringement procedure”, the official name for long legal procedure that was first reported by AFP on Tuesday.

Last year, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe delayed the Berlin government’s approval of a European Central Bank bond-buying programme — despite it having been approved by European courts.

Karlsruhe eventually concluded the bond-buying could go ahead, but Brussels argues that ECB actions are governed by EU not German law and is preparing a case to assert this.

The Brussels-based commission has already criticised countries like Poland several times for refusing to implement rulings of the European Court of Justice — and wants to make EU funding dependent on respect for the EU legal order.

The infringement procedure consists of several stages and may lead to a referral to the European Court of Justice.

For Brussels, the German court’s ruling is “a dangerous precedent for Union law, both for the practice of the German Constitutional court itself, and for the supreme and constitutional courts and tribunals of other member states,” an explanatory note said.

Many in Germany oppose actions by the central bank to buy bonds, arguing that increasing the money supply to help the broader EU economy will hit German savers with inflation and lower interest rates.

Attempts to use the German courts to halt this have so far proved unsuccessful, but Brussels is keen to close off this avenue of attack by confirming the European Court of Justice as final arbiter.

AFP

#TwitterBan: US, UK, EU Envoys Insist Nigeria Must Protect Freedom Of Expression

 

The envoys of the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union in Nigeria among others, have insisted that the Federal Government’s suspension of Twitter, is a violation of the fundamental human right of freedom of expression.

The envoys who met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja on Monday, urged the government to protect freedom of expression.

US ambassador to Nigeria, Mary-Beth Leonards, who spoke on behalf of others said they were delighted to see Nigeria succeed, and that all challenges have solutions.

“We are here as partners who want to see Nigeria succeed. We want to see this place unified, peaceful and prosperous and that’s how all of our activities are arranged. I think we have to be very clear that we are Nigeria’s strong partners on issues of security and we recognise the daunting times and the array of security challenges that confront Nigeria.

“While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the way to surmount them is through partnership of the people you see represented here,” Leonards said.

 

Mary-Beth Leonards

 

“Not only in physical security but in terms of expanding opportunities and promoting mediation and dialogue; this is all very important and we look forward to continuing that partnership and continuing our conversation around important issues like media freedom.

“We re-affirm our position that free access to the ability to express oneself is actually very important and perhaps more important in troubled times.

Read Also: FG Gives Condition To Be Met Before Twitter Ban Is Lifted

Meanwhile, the Federal Government says it would restore Twitter operations in Nigeria if the platform would be used responsibly by the citizens.

While highlighting that the responsibility of the government is to protect law, order, and human lives, Onyeama made it clear that there is no definite time for lifting the ban.

“The condition would be a responsible use of the social media and that really has to be it.”

“We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing; why we have taken this measure is to stop them to be used as platforms for destabilization and facilitation of criminality or encouragement of criminalities,” Onyeama stated.

Top Diplomatic Missions ‘Disappointed’ With FG’s Twitter Ban

This photo combination shows US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, EU President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
This photo combination shows US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, EU President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

 

Prominent diplomatic missions to Nigeria, including Canada, the US, the UK and the EU, on Saturday said they were let down by the decision to suspend Twitter operations in Nigeria.

The Federal Government suspended the social network’s operations on Friday after Twitter deleted tweets from the official account of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The tweets, which Twitter said ran afoul of its policies, had referenced the country’s infamous civil war.

By early Saturday, users across the country started to experience difficulties in accessing the service and many resorted to using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

“The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media,” a joint statement from the missions said.

“We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline.

“Banning systems of expression is not the answer. These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity. As Nigeria’s partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals.”

Bad for Business

Earlier the United States had chided the Nigerian government’s over its decision.

“Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression,” a statement from the US Mission in Nigeria said.

“The Government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.

“Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms.

“As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.

“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity.”

EU, UK Probe Facebook Advertising Data Use

In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The European Union and Britain launched parallel competition probes on Friday into whether Facebook uses data from advertisers to unfairly dominate the online classifieds market.

The US social media behemoth sells classified advertising on its Marketplace service, but also gathers data from commercial advertising that may give it an unfair advantage — a charge the firm declared “without merit”.

Investigators will also probe whether Facebook’s single user log-in allows it to unfairly use data gathered across its social media, dating app, and advertising platforms.

The cases opened by the European Commission and Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are separate, but the regulators are working closely together.

“Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond,” EU vice-president and competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

“We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data,” she said.

“In today’s digital economy, data should not be used in ways that distort competition.”

A Facebook spokesperson responded in an email: “We will continue to cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit.

“We are always developing new and better services to meet the evolving demand from people who use Facebook. ‘Marketplace’ and ‘Dating’ offer people more choices and both products operate in a highly competitive environment with many large incumbents.”

– Marketplace ads –
The formal probe follows a preliminary investigation focused on Facebook’s Marketplace classifieds service — available to most of its three billion users.

Companies advertising on Marketplace have to provide data to Facebook which the European Commission said led to concerns that the internet giant may distort competition.

“Facebook could, for instance, receive precise information on users’ preferences from its competitors’ advertisement activities and use such data in order to adapt Facebook Marketplace,” it said.

The EU executive is also concerned about how Marketplace is integrated into Facebook’s core social network platform — “a form of tying which gives it an advantage in reaching customers and forecloses competing for online classified ads services”.

There is no deadline for the probe to be wrapped up, with the commission saying its duration depended on factors including the complexity of the case.

– Internet gatekeepers –
The European Commission noted in its statement that former EU member Britain’s CMA also on Friday opened its own probe into the way Facebook uses data.

Britain has left the EU and now runs its own competition regime, but both regulators said they would work closely together to investigate Facebook.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA — which set up a “Digital Markets Unit” in April — said they would assess whether Facebook’s business practices are giving it an unfair advantage in the online dating and classified ad sectors.

“Any such advantage can make it harder for competing firms to succeed, including new and smaller businesses, and may reduce customer choice.”

Last month, Brussels launched another probe into Facebook, related to its buyout of a US startup, Kustomer, that specialises in helping businesses interact with customers online.

Vestager and the European Commission have often clashed with US digital giants in the past and has formally accused Apple of unfairly squeezing out rivals from its app store.

The British CMA has also begun a probe of Apple and of Google’s privacy policy, suspecting both of breaking competition law.

The EU is currently preparing an ambitious law, known as the Digital Markets Act, that will set up special rules for so-called “gatekeepers” — the largely US platforms that dominate the consumer internet.

EU Pushes Hassle-Free Travel For Vaccinated Residents

EU Flag

 

Fully vaccinated residents in the EU should be exempt from Covid-19 quarantine when travelling within the bloc, the European Commission urged on Monday in a sign of increased confidence in its jabs rollout.

The EU executive’s update to its non-binding travel recommendations was unveiled a week before EU legislation on a Digital EU Covid Certificate is expected to be passed with enforceable measures across member states.

“The last weeks have brought a continuous downward trend in infection numbers, showing the success of the vaccination campaigns across the EU,” European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.

That, along with a boost in affordable testing, means “member states are now slowly lifting Covid-19 restrictions both domestically and regarding travel,” he said.

When it comes into force from July 1, the European Union wants the Covid certificate to be used to allow travellers within the bloc to avoid testing or quarantine requirements if they can show they are fully vaccinated, have recovered from a Covid-19 infection, or have a recent negative test.

A Commission website – called a “gateway” – allowing border officers and other officials to check the validity of the certificates will go live on Tuesday.

– Getting a head start –
Commission officials said they encouraged member states to start issuing and accepting the Covid certificates in June, so that all EU countries were using it by the end of the month, in time for the peak summer tourist season.

Countries expected to be ready to issue certificates on Tuesday included Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Denmark and Poland.

France, the most-visited country on the planet pre-pandemic, was expected to be ready on June 9.

The Commission proposal urged member states to adopt many of the elements of the Covid certificate before it became law.

They included dropping entry restrictions on people able to show they had been fully inoculated with an EU-approved vaccine at least two weeks before travel, and adopting an “emergency brake” to swiftly restrict travel from regions with a Covid-19 variant of concern.

It also suggested member states should exempt children from quarantine, and those under six years of age from testing, to allow families to travel together.

Commission officials said that once the EU Covid certificate was operational it would pave the way to allowing in visitors from outside the bloc.

Member states can also make entry rules more flexible on their own territory, for instance by permitting half-vaccinated people in with no restrictions or those vaccinated with jabs authorised by the World Health Organisation but not the EU.

Currently, member states have collectively agreed a very restricted “white list” of low-risk countries whose residents can enter, including Australia, South Korea and Israel.

Discussions are under way with “many countries” — including the United States — to allow mutual recognition of the EU’s certificate and their own vaccination proof to broaden travel internationally, an EU official said.

EU Approves Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine For 12 To 15-Year-Olds

A laboratory technician holds a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at the Bidafarma wholesale distribution cooperative in Santa Fe, on the outskirts of near Granada, on January 21, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP
A laboratory technician holds a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at the Bidafarma wholesale distribution cooperative in Santa Fe, on the outskirts of near Granada, on January 21, 2021.
JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

The EU’s drug watchdog on Friday approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus jab for 12 to 15-year-olds, the first vaccine to get the green light for children in the bloc.

The vaccine was “well tolerated” in adolescents and there were no “major concerns” in terms of side effects, the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency said.

The move will be a further boost for Europe’s vaccination programme, with Germany saying it will start giving the jab to children over the age of 12 from next month.

The United States and Canada have already authorised Pfizer for adolescents.

READ ALSO: EU, AstraZeneca Battle In Court Over Vaccine Delays

“As anticipated, the EMA’s Committee for Human Medicines has today approved the use of the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech in adolescents from 12 to 15 years,” Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, told a news conference.

Until now the shot made by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German research firm BioNTech had only been authorised by the EU for people aged 16 and older.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides hailed it as “one step closer to ending the pandemic”, but said people would still have the choice about whether their children should get the jab.

“Beyond the decisions of governments, this is ultimately a decision to be made by parents for their children,” she said on Twitter.

With EU countries trying to expand their vaccination coverage, EMA chief Emer Cooke has said the regulator fast-tracked the approval, which was originally expected in June.

‘Highly preventative’

The watchdog insisted that it had taken the necessary steps to ensure it was safe.

Trials showed the Pfizer vaccine was “highly preventative” for Covid-19 in children, the EMA’s Cavaleri said.

None of the 1,005 children who received the vaccine in a trial developed Covid-19, compared to 16 children out of the 978 who received a placebo injection.

“From a safety perspective, the vaccine was well tolerated and the side effects in this age group were very much similar to what we have seen in young adults and not raising major concerns at this point in time,” Cavaleri said.

The EMA confirmed it was looking into “very rare” cases of heart inflammation in people aged under 30 who had been given the Pfizer vaccine.

“Currently there is no indication that these cases are due to the vaccine and EMA is closely monitoring this issue,” it said in a statement.

US authorities have also reported a small number of reports of heart inflammation among some younger people who Pfizer and Moderna, which uses the same Messenger RNA technology.

The EMA said it was “working closely” with its US counterparts.

The approval of Pfizer for adolescents fires the starting gun for Germany to begin vaccinating children under 12, as Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Thursday.

But Merkel stressed that vaccination would not be compulsory and would have no bearing on whether children can attend school or go on holiday.

Moderna has said it expects to seek authorisation from EU and US authorities in early June, after trials showed it was “highly effective” in adolescents.

 

AFP

EU, AstraZeneca Battle In Court Over Vaccine Delays

 

The European Union accused AstraZeneca of a “flagrant violation” of its contract to rapidly build-up coronavirus production capacity in the bloc, as it began legal action against the drugs giant Wednesday.

The EU member states and their executive, the European Commission, brought the case before a court in Brussels, the union having signed its supply agreement with the British and Swedish firm under Belgian law.

The EU is suing the group in a bid to force it to deliver 90 million more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine before July — arguing that it failed in its contractual duty by handing over only a quarter of the doses it promised for the first quarter of 2021.

The deadline for the contract was set for mid-June, according to the Commission, and the EU says the company will face financial penalties if it does not meet this deadline.

AstraZeneca delivered only 30 million doses in the first quarter out of the 120 million it was contracted to supply. For the current quarter which runs until June 30, it plans to deliver only 70 million of the 180 million initially promised.

A Commission official close to the case told AFP this month that AstraZeneca was currently delivering doses at a rate of only 10 million per month, well below the planned pace.

The company’s defence — articulated ahead of the case in a series of media interviews by AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot — has been that the contract only stipulates that it make “best reasonable efforts” and that production was hit by unavoidable delays.

But, opening the attack for the EU, lawyer Rafael Jeffareli argued that the firm had privileged supplies to Britain and beyond, while failing to make the best effort to step up production at its EU site in the Netherlands, operated by its sub-contractor Halix.

In court, Jeffareli alleged that for several weeks after the EU signed its contract with the firm in September last year, the Dutch plant had continued to supply markets other than the EU.

“Best effort means flexibility! Why did the switchover of the Halix site (to EU supply) only start on October 13?” he demanded.

“AstraZeneca did not even use all the tools at its disposal,” he said, claiming that the group could at the time mobilise “six production sites to meet the set schedule.”

The Halix plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, had sent supplies to Japan at the end of last year, he said. In total, “50 million doses were diverted to third countries in flagrant violation of the contract”.

The group denies having failed in its obligations and at the end of April denounced the lawsuit as “unfounded”.

One lawyer for AstraZeneca — which worked with Oxford University in the development of its vaccine — has claimed that the EU had been warned “as early as February” of the delays and expressed surprise that the bloc had waited at least two months to take the matter to court.

But the European Commission says the contract proves AstraZeneca is legally responsible, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.

– ‘Not in the contract’ –

The commission, which has been responsible for procuring vaccines for all of the bloc, initially intended to use the AstraZeneca jab as the main workhorse to power the EU’s inoculation drive.

It has now switched to the more expensive Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as its mainstay.

Ahead of the hearing Hakim Boularbah, AstraZeneca’s lawyer, said the contracts contained “no obligation to use (production) sites”.

“This may be what the commission wants, but it is not provided for in the contract,” he said.

The row has eroded public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab, which also took a blow over worries of links to very rare blood clots in people who had received it.

In the European Union, Denmark, as early as April, and later Norway and Austria, stopped using AstraZeneca in their vaccination campaigns.

Most other countries have restricted its administration to older adults. This is the case in France, where it is reserved for those aged 55 and over.

AFP

EU Cuts Air Links With Belarus Over Forced Plane Landing

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EU leaders cut Europe’s air links with Belarus on Monday, as strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s regime paraded a dissident journalist arrested after his flight was forced to land in Minsk.

Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying wanted reporter Roman Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

European leaders meeting in Brussels called for the release of the pair and hit back at Minsk by agreeing to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc and urging EU-based carriers not to fly over its airspace.

The leaders also warned they would adopt further “targeted economic sanctions” against the Belarusian authorities to add to the 88 regime figures and seven companies already on a blacklist over a crackdown on opposition.

The move came as Belarusian state television broadcast a 30-second video of Protasevich, who had been living between Lithuania and Poland, confirming that he was in prison in Minsk and “confessing” to charges of organising mass unrest.

The footage showed Protasevich — who could face 15 years in jail — with dark markings visible on his forehead, saying he was being treated “according to the law”.

US President Joe Biden slammed the forced diversion of the plane and arrest of Protasevich as “a direct affront to international norms” and said the video appeared to have been made “under duress”.

READ ALSO: Australia To Close Embassy In Afghanistan Over Security Fears

“I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and have asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible,” Biden said, in a White House statement.

– ‘Outrageous behaviour’ –

The forced landing of an airliner flying between EU nations has refocused attention on the festering political crisis in Belarus, where Lukashenko has unleashed waves of brutal repression to cling to power.

Western leaders accused Belarusian authorities of essentially hijacking a European plane, while Minsk claimed it had reacted to secure the flight after receiving a bomb threat.

“We will not tolerate any attempt to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians,” EU chief Charles Michel said.

The EU’s push to punish Minsk followed announcements from some nations and airlines that they were cutting links to Belarus.

London also said it had issued instructions for British aircraft to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Ukraine said it would halt direct flights between the two countries and over Belarus, while Scandinavian airline SAS, Germany’s Lufthansa and Latvia-based regional airline Air Baltic said they would be avoiding Belarusian airspace.

– ‘Completely implausible’ –

Belarus has insisted it acted legally over the grounding of the Ryanair jet, accusing the West of making “unfounded accusations” for political reasons.

Its air force chief said the plane’s captain had decided to land in Belarus “without outside interference” and that the pilot could have chosen to go to Ukraine or Poland.

A senior Belarusian transport official said the authorities received a letter claiming to be from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas threatening to blow up the plane over Vilnius unless the EU renounced support for Israel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed Minsk’s explanations as “completely implausible” and the EU demanded a probe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The ICAO, a UN agency, is to meet on Thursday.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres backed calls for a “full, transparent and independent investigation into this disturbing incident”.

– Russia unruffled –

NATO slammed a “serious and dangerous incident” and said envoys from the military alliance were to discuss it on Tuesday.

The EU and other Western countries have already imposed a wide range of sanctions on Lukashenko’s government over its crackdown on opposition demonstrations that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term last August.

But Lukashenko has remained defiant with help from his main backer Russia.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab raised the possibility of that Russia had backed the operation.

“It’s very difficult to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow,” he told parliament.

But Russia has dismissed the outrage in the West.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Minsk was taking an “absolutely reasonable approach” while ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked the Western indignation.

“We are shocked that the West calls the incident in Belarusian air space ‘shocking,'” Zakharova said on Facebook, accusing Western nations of “kidnappings, forced landings and illegal arrests”.

Together with co-founder Stepan Putilo, Protasevich until recently ran the Nexta channel on messaging app Telegram, which helped organise the protests that were the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.

With close to two million subscribers on the service, Nexta Live and its sister channel Nexta are prominent opposition channels and helped mobilise protesters in Belarus.

Protasevich and Putilo were added to Belarus’s list of “individuals involved in terrorist activity” last year.

The spiralling tensions around Belarus were in evidence as Minsk expelled the entire staff of Latvia’s embassy, including the ambassador, after accusing Latvian authorities of having used an opposition flag at an ice hockey championship.

AFP

Hungary Opts Out Of New EU Vaccine Contract

File: Matyas BORSOS / AFP.

 

Hungary has opted out of the latest EU contract to purchase the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after sealing early deals for supplies of jabs from Russia and China, a minister said Thursday.

“We do not wish to take part in the new European joint vaccine purchasing procedure,” said Gergely Gulyas, minister in Orban’s office.

He told reporters that half of Hungary’s 9.8 million-strong population had already received at least one anti-Covid-19 dose and the country still had plenty of vaccines in reserve.

“If we have to vaccinate the population again in the autumn, Hungary will be ready,” Gulyas added.

EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the latest deal to buy up to 1.8 billion doses from US pharma giant Pfizer and German laboratory BioNTech in the name of all 27 EU members states on May 8.

“Only Hungary has requested that it will opt out and therefore will not be covered by the contract,” said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides in Brussels on Thursday.

“We were informed about it,” she added.

“All other member states will have the opportunity to purchase vaccines under the new contract.”

The decision is the latest example of disunity between Budapest and its partners in the EU, where accusations of authoritarianism on the part of Viktor Orban’s government have raised tensions.

Budapest was quick to order Beijing’s Sinopharm and the Sputnik vaccine from Moscow, without waiting for EU approval.

Hungary has also been using the four EU-approved vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson).

Since the pandemic struck, Hungary has registered 29,380 Covid-19 deaths — one of the highest mortality rates in the world, according to an AFP tally.

AFP

EU Parliament Blocks China Investment Deal Over Sanctions

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The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to refuse any consideration of the EU-China investment deal as long as Chinese sanctions against MEPs and scholars were in place.

According to the resolution, the parliament, which must ratify the deal, “demands that China lift the sanctions before Parliament can deal with the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment”.

In a vote that passed with 599 votes in favour, 30 against and 58 abstentions, the MEPs also warned that lifting the sanctions would not in itself ensure the deal’s ratification.

“The European Parliament’s decision underlines what I have been saying for weeks: the investment agreement with China is on ice and will only be unfrozen when China withdraws sanctions against members of the European Parliament,” said German MEP Bernd Lange, head of the trade committee.

To the surprise of many, the European Union and China in late December approved a major investment pact, wrapping up seven years of painstaking negotiations thanks to a final push by Germany.

Defenders of the pact see it as a much needed opening of China’s long-closed economy for European companies, but it is sure to face a difficult ratification amongst the 27 member states as well as the European Parliament.

– ‘Reach results’ –

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier maintained his defence of the investment deal.

China “is the European Union’s largest trading partner and the United States’ largest trading partner, and thus plays an important role in the global economy,” Altmaier said.

“We want to reach results with China that are in the interest of both sides,” he added.

China’s state-run, nationalist tabloid Global Times defended Beijing’s sanctions in an editorial late Thursday, saying there was “no way China will lift those sanctions under pressure from the European Parliament.”

The Global Times accused the EU parliament of acting at the United States’ behest to contain China, “achieving US strategic ambitions at its own expense,” while “misleading and deceiving European public opinion.”

Ties between the EU and China soured suddenly in March after an angry exchange of tit-for-tat sanctions over human rights concerns.

The EU sanctioned four Chinese officials over suspected human rights violations in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.

China responded by imposing its own sanctions against European politicians, scholars and research groups.

“The EU cannot both take the high moral ground and nonetheless go ahead with this deal when EU entities and elected MEPs and MPs are under sanctions solely for defending human rights,” Belgian MEP Hilde Vautmans said.

Adding to the pressure over human rights, some 50 human rights defenders from China who have gone into exile in Europe, including the artist Ai Weiwei, asked the EU on Thursday to suspend extradition treaties with Beijing.

In an open letter to EU leaders, they asked Brussels to freeze or revoke arrangements made by 10 EU member states, including France, Belgium and Spain.

These bilateral treaties “not only present a potential threat to our freedom of movement within the European Union, but to our freedom of association and freedom of expression, as Beijing may seek our extradition for statements we make in Europe”, it said.

AFP

EU To Reopen Borders To Fully Vaccinated Travellers

File:  JAVIER SORIANO / AFP.


EU member states agreed Wednesday to reopen the bloc’s borders to travellers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, European sources said.

Meeting in Brussels, diplomats also agreed to increase the level of new cases a country can hit before being declared unsafe — a measure that would open up travel into the EU from more places.

The recommendations will be adopted by EU ministers on Friday, they said.

Currently, non-essential travel into the 27-member European Union is banned, apart from a small number of countries deemed safe because of their low Covid case rate.

But businesses on the continent are reopening as virus restrictions are phased out and bars, hotels and restaurants are worried about the summer tourist trade.

Diplomats said that, under the new rules, travellers who could demonstrate that they had received the required number of doses of an EU-approved vaccine could enter the EU.

In addition, the number of cases per 100,000 people that a country could register over two weeks and still be considered for the green list will rise from 25 to 75.

This would still exclude non-vaccinated travellers from much of the world, but could allow travel from, for example, Britain, which is well-advanced in its vaccination campaign.

AFP

Germany Urges End To Middle East Violence As EU Calls Talks

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks with the media upon his arrival for a meeting with EU foreign affairs ministers at the European Council building, in Brussels, on May 10, 2021. EU Foreign Affairs Ministers meet in Brussels to discuss current affairs, tensions with Russia, the Western Balkans, transatlantic relations and Belarus.
Olivier Matthys / POOL / AFP

 

 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday it is “imperative” for Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting and resume talks ahead of an emergency meeting this week with his EU counterparts.

The “highly explosive” situation in the region could lead to “unforeseeable consequences”, Maas warned in a tweet, adding: “It is imperative that we prevent this from happening.”

“What is needed now is: 1. an end to the rocket attacks, 2. an end to the violence and 3. a return to talks between Israelis & Palestinians and on a two-state solution,” he said.

European Union foreign ministers will hold urgent video talks on the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.

“In view of the ongoing escalation between Israel and Palestine and the unacceptable number of civilian casualties, I am convening an extraordinary VTC of the EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter Sunday.

“We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence.”

The heaviest fighting since 2014 between Israel and Islamist group Hamas, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has claimed 174 lives in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza and killed 10 people in Israel since Monday.

The European Union says Borrell has been conducting “intense” diplomatic efforts to try to help de-escalate the violence — holding talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and the top diplomats from neighbouring nations.

“The EU’s priority and message in this context remain clear: violence must end now,” the bloc’s foreign service said in a statement Saturday.

The EU’s 27 nations often struggle to find a common position over the conflict with some members including Germany, Austria and Slovenia firmly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and others urging it to show greater restraint.